Democrats push Biden’s priorities on climate and health for US Senate approval.

WASHINGTON-

Democrats pushed their election-year economic package toward Senate approval early Sunday, debating a measure with less ambition than US President Joe Biden’s original internal vision. Still, it touches on the party’s deep-seated dreams of curbing global warming, moderating pharmaceutical costs and taxing huge corporations.

The debate began Saturday and early Sunday morning, Democrats had crushed more than a dozen Republican amendments designed to torpedo legislation or create campaign ads attacking Democratic senators. Despite unanimous opposition from the GOP, the 50-50 Democratic unity in the chamber, backed by Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, suggested the party was on track for a morale-boosting victory three months before elections when control of Congress is at stake.

“I think it’s going to happen,” Biden told reporters as he left the White House early Sunday for Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, ending his COVID-19 isolation. The House appeared to be on track to provide final approval from Congress when it returns briefly from summer recess on Friday.

“It will reduce inflation. It will reduce prescription drug costs. It will fight climate change. It will close tax loopholes and reduce the deficit,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said of the package. “It will help every citizen of this country and make America a much better place.”

Republicans said the move would undermine an economy that politicians are struggling to keep from sliding into recession. They said the bill’s business taxes would hurt job creation and push prices skyward, making it harder for people to cope with the country’s worst inflation since the 1980s.

“The Democrats have already robbed American families once through inflation, and now their solution is to rob American families a second time,” argued Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. He said the spending and tax increases in the legislation would eliminate jobs and have a negligible impact on inflation and climate change.

Nonpartisan analysts have said the Democrats’ “Inflation Reduction Act” would have little effect on raising consumer prices. The bill is just over a tenth the size of Biden’s initial 10-year, $3.5 trillion rainbow of progressive aspirations and abandons his proposals for universal preschool, paid family leave and expanded childcare aid. kids.

Still, the new measure gives Democrats a campaign window for action on coveted targets. Includes the largest federal effort ever on climate change (nearly $400 billion), gives Medicare the power to negotiate pharmaceutical prices, and extends expiring subsidies that help 13 million people pay a health insurance.

Biden’s original measure collapsed after conservative Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., objected, saying it was too costly and would fuel inflation.

In a test imposed on all budget bills like this one, the Senate had to endure an overnight “vote-a-branch” of quick amendments. Each tested the Democrats’ ability to maintain a compromise brokered by Schumer, progressives, Manchin and the inscrutable centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., offered amendments to further expand the legislation’s health benefits, and those efforts were defeated. Most of the votes were forced by Republicans, and many were designed to make Democrats appear soft on US-Mexico border security and gas and energy costs, and as bullies for wanting to strengthen enforcement of the IRS tax law.

Before debate began Saturday, the nonpartisan Senate MP watered down the bill’s prescription drug price cuts. Elizabeth MacDonough, who arbitrates questions on the chamber’s proceedings, said a provision that would impose costly penalties on drugmakers whose price increases for private insurers exceed inflation should be removed.

It was the bill’s main protection for the 180 million people with private health coverage they get through work or buy themselves. Under special procedures that will allow Democrats to pass their bill by a simple majority without the usual 60-vote margin, its provisions must focus more on dollars-and-cents budget figures than policy changes.

But the thrust of his pharmaceutical pricing language remained. That included allowing Medicare to negotiate what it pays for drugs for its 64 million elderly beneficiaries, penalizing manufacturers for overinflating pharmaceuticals sold to Medicare and capping beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket drug costs at $2,000 a year.

The bill also caps Medicare patients’ costs for insulin, the expensive diabetes drug, at $35 a month.

The final costs of the measure were being recalculated to reflect the latest changes, but overall it would raise more than $700 billion over a decade. The money would come from a minimum 15 percent tax on a handful of corporations with annual profits greater than $1 billion, a one percent tax on companies that buy back their own stock, beefed-up IRS tax levies and government savings. for lower drug costs.

Sinema forced Democrats to drop a plan to prevent wealthy hedge fund managers from paying less than individual income tax rates on their profits. He also joined other Western senators in winning $4 billion to combat drought in the region.

It was on the energy and environmental side that the compromise was most evident between progressives and Manchin, a champion of his state’s fossil fuels and coal industry.

Clean energy would be promoted with tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles and the manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines. There would be home energy rebates, funds to build factories that build clean energy technology, and money to promote climate-friendly farming practices and reduce pollution in minority communities.

Manchin won billions to help power plants reduce carbon emissions, in addition to language requiring more government auctions for oil drilling on federal lands and waters. Party leaders have also promised to push through separate legislation this fall to speed up permitting for energy projects, which Manchin wants to include a near-completed natural gas pipeline in his state.

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